De Immortalitate – Immortality
Disclaimer: The characters of Twilight are owned by Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement intended at any point.
The story is set in the Roman Empire, under Diocletian (Roman Emperor from 284 to 305), in a villa not far from Rome. The villa had a part reserved for the master and for some servants, with gardens and luxury, and a part organized as a farm, usually led by a freedman or a slave.
I will use Edward's middle name, Anthony, which in Latin is Antonius. Bella instead will have her usual name (not Isabella, only Bella).
Let's meet Romanward.
Chapter 1 – Masters
"Ipse dominus dives, operis et laboris expers,/
quodcumque homini accidit libere, posse retur:/
aequom esse putat, non reputat laboris quid sit."
"The master, abounding in servants and free from labour himself;/ thinks that whatever he happens to choose, can be done;/ he thinks that just, and reckons not what the labour is."
(Titus Maccius Plautus, Amphitryon, 170-172)
When I heard the sound of soft rain in the early morning, my body stiffened. The day wasn't starting under good auspices. I wouldn't see one of my men anymore.
As if it was a day like every other one, I called Sextius. We discussed the managing of the villa, and I gave him the daily tasks for the slaves.
"Master, are you ready to receive the clientes?" Sextius asked.
"They can come, but I don't know what errands I might give them today."
"If there's anything that they can do, they could use every coin. Now that the grape harvest is over, many of them don't have a job."
"I'll think about it. Tell Esma to give them something to eat anyway."
I kept myself busy all morning, dreading that Sextius was going to announce my father's arrival at any moment. It had been exactly three moons since Felix's last visit. I hoped that my men hadn't noticed his visits' regularity as accurately as I had.
My servants had always been loyal to me, and I didn't know what I could do to offer them the same loyalty.
But the truth was a burden that I couldn't share. I wasn't going to risk an insurrection that would have just one result: violent, simultaneous death.
I wandered in the house. How many servants had understood that the villa was observed and escape was not allowed, neither for them or for me?
I avoided Esma as long as possible; she was the only one who would notice that I was worried and ask me about my attitude. By lunchtime, I hoped that maybe I was wrong and my father wasn't going to come today or, at least, would go away alone.
I was soon disappointed.
"Master, your father is here," Sextius announced.
I rose immediately and even tried to smile at Sextius.
A lesson from my military training came back to my mind: never show any sign of fear or hesitation – not in front of one of my men.
Felix's frame was so impressive that he seemed to fill even the large atrium to capacity.
In the afternoon's dim light, I couldn't see his features very clearly. Just for a short moment, I remembered what my father's frame looked like to me as a child. He was my giant, my good giant, and every time he got back home from a war or from traveling, it was a day of joy for all the family. It was.
His lips stretched in a large smile.
"Ave et tu, son." Then he extended his hand. I couldn't deny him the greeting gesture reserved for best friends and family members – not in front of the servants, not after such a long absence – but, for me, it felt odd and disgusting. Making sure not to wince, I shook his hand; I surely didn't consider him a friend.
I motioned toward my tablinum. The farther we were from the servants' eyes and ears, the better. I didn't speak a single word while we walked toward my office, my lips pressed in a hard line, but Felix seemed completely indifferent to my behavior. "Quid agis, son? How is the farm going?" he asked.
"The harvest was good."
"And the clientes? How are they working?"
Indeed, the commerce the clientesmanaged for my family, both in Rome and all over the Mediterranean, had brought back a great deal of wealth. But I couldn't care less about it.
Felix smiled and his eyes shone. "Is there anyone you want to complain about?" he asked, almost merry.
"No," I spat.
I had been careful to avoid mentioning a single name of a servant or a client who had been less useful than the others. I had made this mistake once with him, and I knew too well what could result.
His smile gone, Felix shook his head lightly. "Beware, son," he warned.
"Beware of what?" I snapped. "I'm not going to damn one of my men if this is what you're asking."
He seemed to relax in his seat and looked at me. I detected what seemed to be a hint of pride in his eyes. Was my anger so amusing to him?
"My little son, always so brave...you would have been an excellent general, indeed."
"I would. And you know that I still could."
"For what? To give some unknown soldier the chance to kill my only son? How could I waste such good potential?"
"Isn't my life wasted here? Am I something more than a slave, stuck in this house, due to your desires?"
"I want you to learn to command," he said, deadpan. "You still have to learn to be detached, and...don't forget that I haven't decided yet what I am going to do with you," he added.
As if I could forget it.
"So, Antonius, have you decided who you are going to send away with me?"
I rose from my seat.
"No. Leave my men in peace."
"One of them will surely be at peace, son." He chuckled.
"Don't call me son."
Only this last sentence elicited a change in Felix's attitude.
He rose, too. I was considered very tall compared to other men, but he towered over me. I didn't flinch.
"The only reason that you're still alive is because you're my son. Don't forget it. And don't make me regret that I am sparing your life."
"So don't. You want me to choose, don't you? So take me."
"You?" He took my chin in his fingers. Disgusting. "You'd prefer to die rather than to give your father one of the slaves? Always so brave and generous, always so fond of these frail men..."
"I'm a human being, no different from them."
"As long as I allow it."
He released me and went back to his seat as if nothing had happened.
"I brought you a present," he announced.
I inhaled sharply and couldn't help but curse. Once again, as I had done over and over through the last months, I damned the fact that not everything from the father I remembered from my childhood had been erased.
When I was a child, my father used to bring me gifts whenever he returned home. I still kept them: the first coins he gave me, a wooden sword, a little chariot that we made together. They were, for me, mementos that reminded me that, many years ago, I truly had a father. The monster in front of me had taken his features. Sometimes his words made me reconnect with the man that he had been, to the father I had loved and who was lost now.
I didn't speak. Refusing a present was a terrible offense, and I knew that it would have been an open declaration of war. I glanced towards the garden; it was almost twilight and a further affront to Felix would have meant that no living being in this house was going to see nightfall.
"See? Since you seem to complain when I take away one of my servants from my house when I come to visit you, I bought you a new slave," Felix continued. "She's young and healthy. I've been told that she's so well learned that she could be a preceptor, if she wasn't a woman. I left her in the garden, waiting for her new master. Use her as you wish, for your beloved studies or your pleasure. Enjoy her as long as you can. You know, for me, they are all so breakable." He chuckled.
I was frozen. The monster's words awoke in me the memory of what he had done last spring. I began to shake with rage and felt like I was going to throw up.
But Felix went on, as if nothing was happening.
"Next time I come, I'll take you away with me. There's someone who wants to meet you. Ave atque vale, son."
And then, before I could manage a reaction, he was gone.
I went back to the atrium, scanning the faces of the servants. I truly couldn't bear to discover who the sixth servant that had been told to go to serve the master in his city house or in one of his travels was. The truth was very different.
The entire house was silent, and every servant averted his eyes or avoided crossing my path after seeing me so enraged. After all, for a slave who lived in the country, being chosen to serve in the city was an honor and meant a working life easier than the one on the farm. So I knew that they didn't understand why I seemed so anguished when a servant was taken away by my father.
Only my wet-nurse dared to approach me.
"I've prepared you a bath, Antonius," Esma said softly. "And your dinner will be ready as soon as you want it."
I acknowledged her words with a nod and wondered how much she had figured out. Avoiding the subject wasn't enough to hide that she was suffering as much as I was.
After dinner, she came to speak to me again; the worries of the day weren't over.
"Antonius, what do you want me to do with the new slave?"
Get rid of her was my first thought. But all the events of this day certainly weren't the fault of the new servant.
"I'll see her and she'll be accepted in the house. But then, Esma, she's under your care. Teach her to cook; tell her to do all the chores that you want, in the house or on the farm; use her as you please. I don't care."
Isn't that what Felix wanted from me? Detachment. The man that I had formerly called father, my father, had a bad temper and was a demanding master, but he wasn't a monster. From what I had seen, Felix had changed so much that he didn't care about any person in his house more than I cared about the wood log that a servant had just thrown in the fireplace.
"As you wish," Esma answered. "She's still outside where the master left her. I'll fetch her, and after you've seen her, I'll give her something to eat and a place to sleep."
I couldn't believe that the slave had been left outside for such a long time.
Hercle! I swore. She was still in the garden, in the darkness, after traveling from wherever Felix was before coming here! She must have been scared and tired and famished. As if this day hadn't been hard enough, now I was worried for her and angry at myself after hearing the sadness in Esma's voice. So much for being detached.
"You could have told me about it earlier," I scolded Esma.
She was supposed to know that I wanted the slaves to be treated like the human beings they were, not like objects.
Esma didn't answer, but I didn't need her words to understand that even my wet-nurse hadn't had enough courage to approach me and give me another worry when I was in such a bad mood.
When I spotted the girl in the garden, I thought that Felix had brought me a child.
She was very tiny and, with her head bowed, seemed even smaller. But from the way she walked, I could tell that she wasn't born as a slave. She held her head up high and showed the attitude of a free woman. When she arrived in front of me, it seemed that she needed to remember that she was a slave in front of her master.
Felix was right; she was young and seemed healthy. But he had forgotten to mention that she was beautiful.
I looked closely at her pale face and her flawless skin. Obviously, she wasn't used to working outside; another hint that she wasn't born a slave.
I tilted her chin up; she didn't seem as frightened as I was expecting. Her deep brown eyes were almost serene.
At least, if the girl was going to behave, she could provide good company and some help to Esma.
"You're accepted into this house. Esma will teach you; always do as she says," I told her.
"Esma, give her a tunic, a cloak and a pair of wooden clogs," I instructed.
Then I went away, without bothering to even ask the girl's name.
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Ave and Ave atque vale were common salutation and greeting expressions.
The tablinum was a room reserved for the master as a private office.
Quid agis? means, more or less, How are you doing?
The canon name Esme is derived from Esmeralda and corresponds to the Latin "smaragdus." I thought that Esma (Esme + Smaragdus) would be a good compromise.
Many, many thanks to Camilla10 and LJSummers: they are authors of fascinating stories that I absolutely recommend, and offered me their friendship, expertise and support.
Thanks to Hear and SueBee0619, betas from Project Team Beta; thanks to Emergency Beta Service, in particular to the lovely Rags.
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